Infobox Saint
name=Saint Alphege
death_date=19 April 1012
feast_day=19 April
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion

caption=The painted carving of the martyrdom of Saint Alphege, in Canterbury Cathedral
birth_place=Weston, Somerset, England
death_place=Greenwich, Kent, England
titles=Bishop and Martyr
canonized_by=Pope Gregory VII
attributes=Archbishop holding an axe
patronage=Greenwich; Solihull; kidnap victims
major_shrine=Canterbury Cathedral

Infobox Archbishop of Canterbury
Full name = Saint Alphege

caption =
birth_name = Ælfheah
consecration = 1006
term_end = 19 April 1012
predecessor = Ælfric of Abingdon
successor = Lyfing
birth_date = 954|birth place=Weston, Somerset
death_date = 19 April 1012|death place=Greenwich, Kent
tomb = Canterbury Cathedral

Saint Alphege (also spelt "Alfege") is the commonly used name for Ælfheah (954 – 19 April 1012), an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester and subsequent Archbishop of Canterbury. Noble-born, he became an anchorite before being elected abbot of Bath Abbey. His piety and sanctity led to his promotion to the episcopate, and eventually becoming archbishop. Alphege was responsible for furthering the cult of Saint Dunstan and he also encouraged learning. In 1011 St Alphege was captured by Viking raiders, and after refusing to be ransomed, was murdered in 1012. Later Alphege was regarded as a saint, and it was to Saint Alphege that Saint Thomas Becket prayed to just before he was slain.


St Alphege was born in Weston in Somerset, to a noble family, but in early life became a monk. He first entered the monastery of Deerhurst, but then he moved to Bath, where he became an anchorite. Eventually he was named abbot of Bath Abbey, noted for his piety and austerity.Knowles, et. al. "Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales" pp. 28, 241] Dunstan's influence probably secured his election in 984 to the Bishopric of Winchester.Fryde, et. al. "Handbook of British Chronology" p. 223] Barlow "English Church 1000-1066" p. 109 footnote 5] While bishop of Winchester, he was largely responsible for the building of a large organ that was audible over a mile away from the cathedral and said to require more than twenty-four men to operate. He also built and enlarged the city's churches.Hindley "A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons" p. 304-305] After a Viking raid in 994, a peace treaty was arranged with Olaf Tryggvason in which not only danegeld was paid to Olaf, but Olaf was converted to Christianity.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" p. 378] In the treaty, Olaf also agreed to not raid or fight the English ever again.Williams "Æthelred the Unready" p. 47] There are indications that Alphege had a hand in negotiating the treaty, and it is certain that it was Alphege that confirmed Olaf in his new faith.Leyser " [ Ælfheah (d. 1012) (subscription required)] " "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography"]

In 1006, he succeeded Aelfric as Archbishop of Canterbury.Walsh "A New Dictionary of Saints" p. 28] Fryde, et. al. "Handbook of British Chronology" p. 214] He went to Rome in 1007, and was robbed while on his journey.Barlow "English Church 1000-1066" p. 298-299 footnote7] While at Canterbury, he furthered the cult of Saint Dunstan, and he ordered the writing of the second "Life of Dunstan", composed by Adelard between 1006 and 1011.Barlow "English Church 1000-1066" p. 62] As well, he introduced new practices into the liturgy. He also brought Saint Swithun's head to Canterbury with him as a relic. Alphege also was behind the recognition of Wulfsige of Sherborne as a saint by the Witenagemot in about 1012.Barlow "English Church 1000-1066" p. 223]

It was Alphege who sent Ælfric of Eynsham to Cerne Abbey to be in charge of the monastic school there.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" p. 458] Alphege was present at the council of May 1008 where Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York preached his sermon Sermo Lupi ad Anglos or "The Sermon of the Wolf to the English", which castigated the English for their moral failings and blamed those failings for the tribulations that were afflicting the country.Fletcher "Bloodfeud" p. 94]

In 1011 the Danes once more raided into England, and from 8 September to 29 September they laid siege to Canterbury. The invaders eventually sacked the city through the treachery of a man named Ælfmaer, who had once been saved by Alphege.Williams "Æthelred the Unready" p. 106-107] During the sack, Alphege was captured and kept in captivity for seven months.Hindley "A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons" p. 301] Captured along with him were Godwine, Bishop of Rochester, Leofrun, abbess of St Mildrith's, and the king's reeve Ælfweard. Ælfmaer, abbot of St Augustine's Abbey managed to escape. Alphege refused to allow a ransom to be paid, and he was murdered at Greenwich, Kent (now London), reputedly on the site of St Alfege's Church there, on 19 April 1012.


An account of Alphege's death appears in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: quote|. . . for there was wine brought them from the south. Then took they the bishop . . . on the eve of the Sunday after Easter . . . They overwhelmed him with bones and horns of oxen; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God. [ Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1012] accessed on 4 November 2007] After Alphege's capture, the cathedral at Canterbury was plundered and burned by the Danes.Barlow "English Church 1000-1066" pp. 209–210]

St Alphege was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die violently.Fletcher "Bloodfeud" p. 78] Thorkell the Tall is alleged in a contemporary report to have been present and to have tried to bribe the mob with all his belongings and loot, except his ship, to spare Alphege, but the Anglo Saxon Chronicle does not mention his presence.Williams "Æthelred the Unready" p. 109-110] Some sources record the final blow, with the back of an axe, as being dealt by one "Thrum" as an act of kindness by a Christian convert. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral,O'Brien "Queen Emma and the Vikings" p. 75-76] but his body was removed by King Canute to Canterbury, with great ceremony in 1023.Hindley "A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons" p. 309-310] O'Brien "Queen Emma and the Vikings" p. 129-130] After Alphege's death, Thorkell the Tall was appalled at the brutality of his fellow raiders and switched sides to the English king Ethelred the Unready.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" p. 383]


St Alphege was canonized in the year 1078 by Pope Gregory VII with a feast day of 19 April.Delaney "Dictionary of Saints" p. 29-30] Along with Augustine of Canterbury, Alphege was the only pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon archbishop of Canterbury who Lanfranc kept on the calendar of saints at Canterbury.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" p. 672] His shrine, which was neglected by Lanfranc, was rebuilt and expanded under St Anselm of Canterbury in the early part of the twelfth century.Brooke "Popular Religion in the Middle Ages" p. 40] After the fire in Canterbury Cathedral in 1174, Alphege's remains were placed, along with Saint Dunstan, around the high altar, where Saint Thomas Becket is said to have commended his life into St Alphege's care just before he was martyred. An incised paving slab to the north of the present High Altar of Canterbury Cathedral marks the place where the medieval shrine is believed to have stood. A "Life of St. Alphege" in prose—which survives—and verse were written by a Canterbury monk named Osborn at the request of Lanfranc.

A new Catholic church in Bath in 1929 was dedicated to Our Lady and St Alphege, in recognition of the fact that it was the close to the saint's birthplace. This "little gem" is by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, in Bath stone, closely following the model of the Roman basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. [Christopher Martin, "A Glimpse of Heaven: Catholic churches of England and Wales", English Heritage, 2006: pp 183-186] Scott commissioned the sculture D.W. Gough to carve 20 scenes from the life of Alphege in the capitals of the pillars on the south side of the nave covering his time at Deerhurst, Bath, Winchester, Greenwich and Canterbury.

ee also

*The Incorruptibles, a list of Catholic saints and recognised holy persons whose bodies are reported to be incorrupt; that is, the bodies did not undergo any major decay after their burial and hence are considered to be under some form of divine protection.




External links

* [ The Martyrdom of Ælfheah, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle]
* [ Prosopography of Anglo Saxon England: Ælfheah]
* [ 20 Carvings of the Life of St Alphege at Our Lady & St Alphege, Bath]

NAME= Alphege
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Bishop of Winchester; Archbishop of Canterbury; Saint
DATE OF DEATH= 19 April 1012
PLACE OF DEATH= Greenwich, Kent

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